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Changes in U.S. Olympic Youth Development

Published on February 3rd, 2014

U.S. Olympic Youth Development Director Leandro Spina comments on some recent observations among the elite levels of youth sailing:

* The Olympic Games is seeing a shift toward more high performance boats, which is a trend that is likely to continue. How are you encouraging youth sailors and youth sailing programs to adapt to this change?

Leandro Spina head shot

LS: The U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee released last year a document called Vision 2024. This is a long-term plan with the following mission: To create sustainable performance and reshape U.S. Olympic pathways. The primary focus is on what we believe to be the three key elements at the core of developing Olympic sailing talent:

A) Equipment: The U.S. Olympic Program endorses six Olympic Development Classes: Laser, Laser Radial, 29er, I420, F16 and the Techno 293.
B) Schedule and Events: We have worked very hard to establish a national circuit of events for these high performance classes. The goal has been to give our young talent more training opportunities at regional and national training camps and clinics. We need to give promising athletes the chance to consistently race against the best U.S. talent at high quality regattas around the country.
C) Key Partners: We understand the importance of working within the existing frameworks of Youth Sailing. One design class organizations, clubs, community programs, families, high school teams, and college teams are all stakeholders and valuable assets. Everyone is focused for the long-term development of our young talent.

* At the Open Orange Bowl Regatta in Miami (Dec. 27-30), the Techno 293 and RS:X windsurfing classes were included for the first time. There were 34 windsurfers in just the first year, making it the largest fleet of the Youth Worlds classes. What do you make of this trend?

LS: This was a direct result of the U.S. Olympic Program’s vision to support these two classes, and the effort to make it clear that all six endorsed Olympic development classes can nurture the skills needed to perform at the top of our sport. There are many paths to take within this framework. Young windsurfing sailors can become excellent 470 crews, or make a transition to multihull or skiffs. I-420 sailors can do this as well, and/or 29er sailors can become 470 dinghy or windsurfing Olympic champions. The possibilities are endless if we focus on the development of high-level skills at a young age, while using these classes as our development platform.

* In addition to your responsibilities as the U.S. Youth Development Director, you have also been instrumental in guiding the Junior Sailing Program at Miami Yacht Club. That program used to be the traditional Opti/420 program but has changed completely in a few years. They seem to be having rapid recent success qualifying kids for the Youth Worlds, high scores at the big National Jr Regattas, and likely will also qualify one of the few spots for the Youth Olympics. More importantly, enrollment in their junior program is at an all time high. What is different now about that Junior Program?

LS: The success of the Miami Yacht Club Youth Sailing Program is based on the decision to work on long-term development. All the young kids in the program sail more than one class, in order to learn different sets of skills. As they develop their personal preferences, they are given opportunities to race at a higher level on high-performance classes.

* There’s a rumor that the Club 420 will soon no longer be included at the U.S. Youth Championship or Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta. This would be quite a shift for Junior Sailing. What is the reason behind this and what paths do you see these kids taking instead?

LS: The U.S. Olympic Program and the U.S. Youth Championship Committee have worked very closely to align their goals. While the Youth Champs is again becoming the premier youth event in U.S., naturally the six Olympic development classes endorsed by the U.S. Olympic Program have their place at the event. The Club 420 is one of the best-organized classes in the U.S., and the U.S. Olympic Program recognizes their function on the Olympic Pathway.

U.S. Sailing is working with the Club 420 class on its role as a boat that helps develop skills on a broad scale. The class is an important feeder of talent into the Olympic Development classes. The Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta is a U.S. Sailing Junior Olympic event, and the Club 420 should continue being part of it.

All Club 420 sailors who are interested in being on the Olympic pathway should try any of the six Olympic development classes. By making this easier within the U.S., the U.S. Olympic Program is working very hard on creating more opportunities for our young talent to reach Olympic success.

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